Hooked on Technology – Women in Tech Scholars Are Breaking the Mold

Angel VanEllison and Alajia Colon are new Georgia Southern University graduates. Chidera Obinali graduated in December. All three are information technology (IT) majors — a field that is vastly underrepresented by women and minorities. Last year, each received $5,000 scholarships from Women in Technology (WIT) — an organization that promotes the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM).

The Aspiring Graphic and Web Design Company Owner: Angel VanEllison

The budding entrepreneur, who specializes in web and mobile foundations, received the WIT Campus Fiserv Scholarship. VanEllison started playing video games very young and describes herself as a devoted PlayStation gamer.

“I love ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Assassin’s Creed’ and ‘God of War,’” she said. “I love playing ‘Sims’ on the PC.”

VanEllison is from Savannah, and first learned how to code using Scratch and Alice (computer science programs) as a 12-year-old summer camp student.

“By my parents introducing me to different technologies, enrolling me in programs at Georgia Tech as a child, and consistently supporting my passion for technology, I fell in love with all things tech,” she said.

The undergraduate is the president of Georgia Southern’s WIT Campus and as the former vice president of membership, it was her responsibility to encourage the University’s WIT members to apply for the scholarships.

“Georgia Southern had the most applicants and the most winners,” said VanEllison who is also a champion of the fight to make the tech industry more inclusive.

“As children, little girls often are not exposed to toys that may lead to an interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” she said. “When we are very young, we learn what toys are for girls and what toys are for boys, and that’s a message that sticks. Then when you are one of a few women in a male- dominated space, having the confidence and comfort to remain in it can be overwhelming.”

VanEllison pointed out that Georgia Southern’s IT department faculty have been extremely supportive.

“Thanks to the amazing and helpful professors, I would say the coursework is nothing I can’t handle,” she said. “Of course, there are many long nights in the IT Building. Teamwork and collaboration are a big part of being an information technology professional and that’s something we’re big on in the IT major. So, we study together and work on many group projects together.”

The Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority member graduated in May and accepted a position with Fiserv – the company that sponsored her $5,000 scholarship. She acknowledged WIT has been life-changing.

“Besides the scholarships, WIT offers opportunities for jobs and internships,” VanEllison said. “WIT Campus is a major part of my Georgia Southern legacy and I want to pay it forward. For girls and women who want a career in tech, the resources are there, the scholarships are there, the mentors are there, you just have to look for them.”

(L-R) Elizabeth Rasnick, Ph.D., Alajia Colon, Angel VanEllison, Chidera Obinali and Kristen Hawkins hold up the Georgia Southern flag

The Aspiring Web Developer: Alajia Colon

Colon, who has a minor in graphic communications, won the WIT Campus Edge Solutions Scholarship. She grew up playing video games like ‘Crash Bandicoot,’ ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Sonic,’ and started at Georgia Southern as a computer science major. She didn’t enjoy her first programming class, so she changed her major to IT.

“When I switched majors, I enjoyed the professors and students much more, as well as my first IT class – Intro to IT,” she said.

The coursework has been challenging but Colon credits her “peers and professors for helping her each step of the way.” The senior is from Alpharetta, Georgia, and is a member of the University’s chapter of WIT Campus, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and the Student Government Association. The IT program pushes students to participate in internships and Colon completed hers in her hometown at St. James United Methodist Church.

“It offered a great experience to learn about managing social media and graphic work,” said the new graduate.

Colon, the former vice president of membership for WIT Campus at Georgia Southern, has been hired by Cerner, a global leader in health care technology. The during the interview process, she told recruiters about WIT Campus and her scholarship. The company was impressed and organized and provided speakers for a virtual event for members of the organization. It also donated $100 to provide the students with pizza. “WIT has given her so much and she wanted to give back,” said VanEllison about her WIT colleague and sorority sister, who was the impetus for the virtual event.

In the future, Colon hopes to start her own web development and graphic design company.

The Front-end Developer: Chidera Obinali (’18)

The recent graduate, who specializes in web and mobile technologies, was awarded the WIT Campus T-Mobile scholarship. To Obinali, the scholarship meant more than additional school funding.

“The scholarship meant that there are people out there who believed in me and believed in my story and saw that I had a lot of potential,” said Obinali.

Growing up in a traditional Nigerian household in Fayetteville, Georgia, Obinali and her siblings were expected to find financially stable and sustainable careers in fields such as engineering or medicine. She considers herself lucky to have fallen in love with something similar. She joked, “It did take me awhile to get them to stop calling me their little engineer.”

The scholarship occurred at a very crucial time for Obinali as her mother had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing expensive chemotherapy. Most of the family’s additional funds went for her treatment.

“One of the first purchases I made with the scholarship was a new laptop because, for about six months, I couldn’t afford to get a new one,” Obinali said. “I was borrowing my professor’s laptop which is another example of how the IT professors care about us.”

Now that she has graduated, Obinali is currently working as a front-end web development course instructor and freelance graphic designer. She is looking to expand her experience by working for a large company that partners with organizations committed to education, cultural awareness and women in technology.

“Have you ever gone to a website where you couldn’t figure out where to go or what to click? It’s frustrating,” she said. “That’s a loss for everyone because the company lost a potential customer and the user couldn’t find what they were looking for. I’d love to be a bridge for that. That’s what I’ve always loved to do since middle school, just helping people.”

Besides her involvement in WIT, she was in the University Honors Program, the Southern Leaders Association and since her junior year devoted more than 200 hours to community service. Noting that there are very few women and minorities in tech, Obinali offered advice for those who follow in her footsteps.

“I can write a book or two about young girls, especially black girls in IT. Don’t be afraid and don’t be swayed. It is okay to fail at something but it’s not okay to quit. Drive yourself to do things that you want to do. If you want to succeed and you really want it then it’s going to happen because you’re going to make it happen.”

– Sandra  Bennett